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British Reptiles Fact Sheet

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Handling an Injured Reptile
The Law
Conservation Status
Snakes
Lizards
Nesting & Breeding
Casualties

There are six species of native reptiles in the UK, three are snakes and three are lizards.

Snakes

Name Latin Name
Grass Snake Natrix helvetica (was Natrix natrix, re-classified 2017)
Adder or Viper Vipera berus
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca*

 

Lizards

Name Latin Name
Common or Viviparous Lizard Zootoca vivipara
Slow-worm Anguis fragilis
Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis*

 

Handling an Injured Reptile

Often people call us because they have found a reptile – usually there is nothing wrong and they should be left alone, they will normally quickly disappear and you are privileged to have had a sighting of these special creatures. However, sometimes they will need help.

Always be 100% sure of your identification before handling any reptile, particularly snakes. Snakes are very good at escaping, so in addition to the British snakes, we do occasionally come across a few escaped exotics, so it is essential to know what the reptile is before handling. Like all wild creatures, they may bite when cornered, so it is best to leave handling to experienced personnel. If you can pick it up, wear thick gloves, scoop it up and put into a cloth bag – such as a pillow case – and tie or close the top. Never try and handle an adder – always call for experienced help.

Call your nearest wildlife hospital for advice if you are unsure. Put an upturned bucket over the reptile (making sure it isn’t resting on any part of its body), but make sure you weigh it down with something heavy, as it could push underneath the rim and escape.

The Law

British Reptiles are protected under UK Law. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is illegal to kill, harm, injure or trade in any species. Two of our native species are endangered – so it is vital to leave them alone, unless they need help.

Conservation Status

All British reptiles are listed as priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Snakes

The grass snake is the largest and most commonly seen snake at Tiggywinkles. They have a distinctive yellow and black ‘collar’ around their neck with a round pupil, although they can vary slightly in colour. These snakes are not venomous, and when upset are likely to spray a strong smelling musk scent. Adults will grow up to 100-130cm in length.

Adders are a thicker bodied snake, with a distinctive zigzag stripe down its back and a V (or X) shape marking on its head. These are the only native venomous snakes in the UK, although their markings are sometimes confused with the grass snake. They have a vertically slit pupil, which is different from the harmless grass snake. Smaller than the grass snake, adult adders may reach 60-75cm in length. These very shy snakes may be seen sunbathing, but they are very placid and people are normally only bitten when they attempt to handle them. If bitten, don’t attempt any first aid – immobile the limb and get immediate medical attention at a Hospital.

The smooth snake is slim, greyish brown, with a double row of brown or black dots along its back. These are non-venomous and endangered. The adults can grow around 60-68cm in length. These snakes spend much of their time under-ground and are sadly very rare with their distribution though to be confined to Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey.

Lizards

The common lizard is fast moving, small (around 15cm in length) and dark greyish brown, often with a darker streak running down its back. Their underside is yellowy orange, and the males have black spots. Common lizards are widely distributed around the UK and like to bask in the sun.

Slow worms are often confused with snakes, as they are a legless lizard. They have very few markings, the adults can vary from a light brown to rich copper brown colour and the females have a darker straight line along their flanks. Adults grow to around 40-45cm in length.  They live underground or in compost heaps and are fairly shy creatures.

Sand lizards can vary in colour and they are grey to brown and their sides may have dark patches with lighter centres. The males can sometimes have a more green colouring. Their underside is light grey and spotty. Adults grow to around 16-20cm. Sand lizards are extremely rare and mainly only found in heathland.

Nesting & Breeding

Grass snakes lay their eggs in June/July time, often in nice warm places such as compost heaps. They may lay up to 40 eggs, which will hatch out in the Autumn.

Adders don’t lay eggs, the females give birth to around 8 live young in late summer.

Smooth snakes give birth to up to 15 babies in a membrane, which breaks soon after birth.

Common lizards give birth to up to 11 young in early summer, in a sac which breaks soon after birth.

Slow worms give birth to around 8 (but can be many more) babies, in a membrane which breaks at birth.

Sand lizards are the only native lizard to lay eggs, in loose sand which hatch in late summer.

Casualties

If you've found a sick/injured/orphaned wild animal please see our Emergency section for help or call 01844 292292.

Caught in Netting

Grass snakes in particular as they hunt around garden ponds, but certainly all reptiles, may get caught in garden netting. If you find an unfortunate reptile caught up in the netting, it is essential not just to cut it free and let it go. Pressure necrosis, where the skin dies away around a ligature, may take up to 7 days to appear. So, if you have an animal caught in netting, take it to your nearest wildlife hospital as soon as possible. You don’t need to cut the netting away from the ligature, as this will stress the animal and you may get bitten, just bundle the whole lot up into a bag – see below about handling, or call for advice.

Catted

Lizards and snakes may be prey to cats and typical injuries are small puncture wounds to the head and body. These will need to be treated at a wildlife hospital, as the wounds can easily become infected.

Compost Heaps

Compost heaps are the preferred home for many British reptiles, as they like the warmth. Therefore you should be careful when turning over or spreading your compost, as sadly we do see a number of fork injured reptiles every year.

Grass snake caught in netting

Sand lizard

Slow worm

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